By now, you would think Tony Romo would know better.
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He has been in the NFL for more than a decade, seen a lot of ups and downs.
But he just couldn’t help himself.
With just under three minutes on the clock, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback fell for one of the oldest ploys in the book when the defense overloaded against what had to be an obvious run.
That presented a let-Romo-beat-us scenario, with Miles Austin – not to be confused with Megatron – left in man-to-man coverage. Or a let-us-beat-Romo scenario.
Romo foolishly took the bait and changed the play.
Rather than handing the football to DeMarco Murray, who slashed through the Packers defense for 134 yards on 18 rushes, Romo trusted himself to make the throw that defied NFL logic.
Remember, with Dallas facing a second-and-6 from its 35-yard line, the Packers had already used two timeouts. Two runs, even if they didn’t move the chains, would have likely taken it down to at least the two-minute warning and maybe forced Green Bay to drive the length of the field with no timeouts.
Yet when the pass was a bit behind Austin, running a slant, Sam Shields’ interception – which led to the game-winning touchdown – capped the biggest blunder in Dallas’ meltdown.
Sure, Romo got one final chance to make amends. His last throw was picked off, too, when Cole Beasley apparently cut off his route to the sideline.
And there’s plenty of blame to spread for a debacle that goes down as the second-largest blown lead in Cowboys history – they were up, 26-3 at halftime – as the injury-depleted defense wilted again.
Romo, though, is absorbing another blemish on his big-moment record because his sense of judgment cost his team when it needed him to come through. We knew the NFL’s worst-ranked defense was bad. Romo has to know it, too, that he needed to reduce the risks because of his D.
Of course, that’s not all on Romo.
Someone gave him the freedom to switch the plays at the line of scrimmage.
On Sunday, he should not have been able to audible in such a make-or-break situation. Not with Murray running wild. Not with the clock needing to be milked. Not with the risk.
Coach Jason Garrett and play-calling coordinator Bill Callahan should have demanded that Romo stick to the running play for the sake of game-management and minimizing risk.
For all of that talk from Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones during the offseason of Romo becoming more like Peyton Manning, that idea has come back to haunt Dallas.
My guess is that Manning, who for years has owned the most liberal play-calling power of any quarterback in the NFL, would have milked the clock until forced to throw.
Memo to Jerry: Romo is not Manning. Romo is Romo.
His penchant for changing running plays to passes didn’t suddenly surface in the fourth quarter on Sunday. He’s been doing it too much all season, despite the offseason emphasis to get more balance in the Dallas attack – which included Garrett handing off the play-calling duties to Callahan.
Get this: Through Sunday, the Cowboys ranked next-to-last in the league for rushing attempts. They threw passes on 65% of the snaps, an even higher rate of throws than Manning has had (59.2%) while threatening to break single-season passing records.
And while Dallas ranks 23rd for rushing yards, the average rush of 4.6 yards per carry is tied for fourth-best in the NFL.
The analytics scream: Run the ball.
Yet the results suggest that when faced with a choice to switch a run to a pass, Romo will trust that he can make a better play with his arm than the team can make with a run.
Sometimes, that makes sense. But game situations, including the clock, sometimes must trump what the defense is showing.
Times like Sunday – when Dallas ran the football just seven times after halftime.
How absurd is that? Murray had 93 yards and averaged 8.5 yards per carry in the first half, then got seven carries the rest of the game. Packers rookie Eddie Lacy, whose team was in catch-up mode, ran for 110 yards in the second half.
Romo essentially said after the game that it’s easy to second guess after the fact, and there’s truth to that. But his contention that’s it’s tough to ignore the numbers the defense shows – the men in the box to defend against the run – suggests that he still doesn’t get it. Even now.
It’s the situation.
Given history, even the most ardent Cowboys supporter and Romo backer would have to cringe with the thought of having a game on the line – especially in December – and seeing the quarterback of America’s Tease launching a pass over the middle.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, since Romo became a starter in 2006, he has thrown an NFL-high seven interceptions when tied or up by one possession. No other quarterback has thrown more than four picks in such situations.
Supporters often maintain that Romo – who signed a six-year, $108 million extension during the offseason – gets too much blame for the Cowboys woes. He’s certainly been one of the NFL’s most productive passers in recent years, but the most defining moments have still come with his setbacks.
With seasons on the line, too often bad things happen for Romo.
His teams are 13-21 in December and January, including postseason.
Romo is lucky that the Cowboys (7-7) still have a season left, with a chance to win the NFC East title if they can win their final two games – at Washington, and home against Philadelphia.
But he’s rather unlucky, too.